Biking

Dan Bell, of Rochester, bikes along East Center Street to downtown for work Tuesday in Rochester. Bell said he bikes everyday to and from work, all year round.

Downtown Rochester has long been seen as a barrier to bicyclists.

“Many paths and bike routes simply end at the edge of downtown, with no clear way forward and favor only the most confident riders in traffic,” said Brett Ostby, a We Bike Rochester board member. “Current traffic patterns in downtown are designed to get cars through the area.”

That concern was a topic of discussion during the recent Bike Summit, as well as a subject for the Rochester City Council this week.

“We have a great trail network that can get you to the periphery of downtown, but for those who want to get into or through downtown, it’s a challenge and people don’t feel comfortable or safe,” Rochester City Engineer Dillon Dombrovski told the council.

To answer the concern, the city continues to move forward on a bike-lane project planned for Third and Fourth avenues west of the Mayo Building, as well as 12 blocks of Center Street, from Sixth Avenue Southwest to Sixth Avenue Southeast.

Dombrovski said the project has other ties to ongoing DMC efforts.

“This is kind of the first interim stage of the City Loop,” he said. “Obviously, it doesn’t incorporate the wide space with all the separate pedestrian facilities and separate, protected bike facilities, but it starts to kind of implant the concept.”

The City Loop is a planned pedestrian and bicycle urban trail designed throughout portions of the DMC district.

Ostby said We Bike Rochester supports the plans as they have emerged.

“The City Loop is one of many solutions that the city and DMC are exploring to make our downtown a place for human beings, not simply a place to drive through or store cars,” he said, “The City Loop would provide space for pedestrians and cyclists to safely navigate the area and access businesses. It would provide a space for citizens to take a healthy break during a busy day.”

Dombrovski said work continues to define how the loop will connect with other projects and paths, including the new bike lanes, which are still in the planning stage.

“Right now, we are at 60 percent plans,” he said, noting the goal is to have completed plans in July so work can start this fall.

While much of the project will be confined within the current curbs, Dombrovski said changes to the physical infrastructure will be needed.

The biggest change will be how the bike lanes are separated from vehicle lanes. Instead of thin strips of paint, wide, painted buffers will be added to the streets.

“There are spots where we can get up to 5 feet of buffer,” Dombrovski said, noting key points where cars and bikes could come into conflict will also likely feature some sort of added definition, such as orange plastic poles to mark the buffer.

He said that’s one area where planning work continues.

“Just from a cost perspective and maintenance perspective, I don’t see us putting these delineators along each of the segments,” he said.

Mayor Kim Norton encouraged using more, rather than fewer, raised indicators to mark the bike lanes, noting it will help drivers feel more comfortable as more bikes are added to the downtown corridors.

“I think the barriers help people feel safe in the car,” she said. “Maybe it’s just a perception, but what we are doing is a big change for people in this community.”

Another change will be the loss of 204 parking spaces, but Dombrovski noted the space is needed to add bike lanes without widening the street.

“To make this project work without removing travel lanes, we have to displace on-street parking,” he said, noting approximately 8,000 parking spaces have been added to the downtown with recent development.

“Many times, it’s on one side of the street, and we maintain it on the other side throughout the corridor,” he added.

With discussions continuing regarding connections to existing trails and final plan details, Domrovski said the effort remains on schedule for a September start to the street work.

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Local Government Reporter

Randy is the Post Bulletin's local government reporter, covering the city of Rochester and Olmsted County, as well as Destination Medical Center efforts. He joined the Post Bulletin staff in 2014.